Kirby: A Mormon at home in Pennsylvania Amish country
Upper Leacock Township, Pa. •
I'm writing this on the hood of a rental car while my wife shops for a quilt inside an Amish barn the size of an aircraft hangar.
I feel oddly at home. Two cows stare at me over a fence. An exact replica of Brigham Young (beard, scowl, etc.) watches with disapproval from a porch. Meanwhile, an enormous bulldog rubs against me in an aggressive plea for more "English" Doritos.
Note: "English" is how the Amish refer to outsiders in much the same way Mormons used to refer to outsiders as "gentiles."
This is our fifth quilt shop of the morning. Because a hand-sewn Amish quilt costs more than the car, cows, barn, bulldog and me combined, I'm hoping we leave before I need to get a second job.
This wasn't planned. We came back East to examine the government shutdown in Washington, D.C. After two days and no end in sight to the idiocy, we did what any sensible visitor to the nation's capital would do: We left.
We drove 90 miles north to a place where nobody is ever furloughed even for a minute: Amish country. Everything was open here (as long as it was before the sun went down) and incredibly busy.
Comedian Roseanne Barr once referred to Mormons as "Nazi Amish." She was obviously drunk or nuts at the time, because from where I'm standing (in a barnyard), the comparison actually works the other way around.
Amish are a group of traditional old-school Christians who live simply and plainly in a rural setting. They are what Mormons would have been had historical LDS church leaders gotten their way when we journeyed to Zion.
Some of the most noticeable differences between us are:
Appearance • Everyone thinks they know what Mormons in uniform (white shirts, ties, dark suits) look like. Back here, the NSA, ad reps, politicians, Bible school faculty and insurance salespeople all dress just like that.
But there's no confusing an Amish man for a Capitol Hill lobbyist, or an Amish woman, for that matter. Their uniform is all their own.
Alcohol • You think Utah liquor laws are crazy? OK, they are. But try this liquor law for something really worth whining about: "None." You can get a beer or a drink in any county in Utah. In Amish Country, it depends entirely on the neighborhood.
Family size • As near as I can tell (without asking and maybe getting punched), the Amish have large families as well; some of them spread over entire townships (just like Mormons).
R-rated movies • Mormons are still bickering over what's appropriate to watch on the screen. We fret over whether a movie is R-rated. Amish don't have to worry. They have a rating, too. It's N, as in "none." They don't even have televisions.
Guns • Thanks to the movie "Witness," it's generally assumed that Amish are against firearms. Unlike Mormons, Amish are only against using guns on people. Most Amish are armed.
I asked a visibly Amish woman if Amish were prohibited from killing things. She said that something had to be done about whatever bothered their livestock.
Me : "Like tourists?"
Her: Tolerant smile.
Since we're on the subject of idiot questions, the Amish field a lot of those from tourists. Entire busloads of the clueless "English" descend on their villages every day. It reminded me of the times during the 2002 Winter Olympics when I was asked by tourists, "Where can we see some Mormons?"
I like it here in Amish country. Except for the fact that their quilts cost more than the Shroud of Turin, it's not a bad place to spend a week.
I watched parts of the 183rd semiannual session of LDS General Conference in a motel in Intercourse, Pa. I wasn't trying for the irony. It just worked out that way. It's true.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.
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